THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO
About the book
Essential reading for lovers of Victorian true-crime stories. The book takes readers on a roller-coaster ride through Britain, France and Monaco in the company of one of the greatest swindlers of the era as he pulls off one breath-taking coup after another. His amazing win at Monte Carlo is just one of many highlights in this true story, which reaches a climax when Wells is pursued across Europe in one of the biggest man-hunts of all time.
FACTFILE: Charles Deville Wells aka ‘Monte Carlo Wells’ aka ‘The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo’
Blog: The Man Who Broke The Bank
- ***** Five-star review – “I can’t rate this book highly enough”. February 18, 2019
‘I can’t rate this book highly enough. Not what I expected, very quick moving and so full of wonderful details. You get close to the exceptional Charles Wells and the last chapters are revealing as so much is explained. I am staggered at the sheer amount of research that must have gone into this wonderful story. Thank you Robin! Note, the audible version is read by Jonathon Keeble who is absolutely excellent with this book. I normally read historical fiction, but this book was as good as any’.
- Joseph Hobson Jagger: the true story November 23, 2018
Today guest blogger Anne Fletcher, author of From the Mill to Monte Carlo, writes about her great, great, great uncle Joseph Hobson Jagger – one of the first individuals to break the bank at Monte Carlo.
‘Faites vos jeux!’ The croupier’s voice was the only sound in the high, vaulted hall. Play had long since ceased at the other tables; all eyes were on the Englishman, wondering what he would do next. Could this extraordinary run of luck continue? The crowd was silent as the toureur spun the roulette wheel and the ball clattered across the metal struts that divided the numbers. The wheel slowed. ‘Rien ne va plus!’ There was a nervous cough from the croupier and then it was over. ‘Vingt-huit!’ was the shout from the crowd, ‘Encore une fois, il gagne – bravo monsieur, bravo!’ A black cloth was called for and the chef de partie draped the table in mourning. The bank had been broken. The Englishman, a large, cheerful, bearded man, rose from the table and showing little sign of nervous strain, shook hands with the croupier, gathered up his winnings and left the building.
I grew up on the tale of Joseph Hobson Jagger, my great, great, great uncle. My Dad told me the story often. He was proud of his famous ancestor who began life as a poor Bradford mill worker and became a millionaire after breaking the bank at Monte Carlo. I was told that the famous song, The Man Who broke the bank at Monte Carlo was written about him. I recounted the tale too, telling my friends about this working class, Victorian man who had done a most extraordinary thing. Only when I was an adult did I start to question what I had always been told. Joseph’s story posed some problems for me; there seemed to be gaping holes in the narrative. Why did a man from a working-class family, employed in a mill in Bradford go to Monte Carlo? It was the playground of Europe’s rich. How could he afford to go and why would he want to? How did he get there and what happened to the money he was alleged to have won? My family was not rich, had never been rich, to the contrary my father had grown up in Bradford in great poverty. A newspaper search revealed no coverage at all of Joseph winning a fortune at Monte Carlo, apart from an article my own father had written which had been published in the Telegraph & Argus in 1960. His will, I discovered, was not that of a multimillionaire. I began to doubt that he had broken the bank at all.
This lack of evidence in the public domain prompted Robin Quinn in his book The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo to conclude, ‘The story has been told and retold many times: however, I doubt whether it is strictly true.’ He came to the quite reasonable conclusion that Joseph Hobson Jagger was a character conjured up by Victor Bethell to add colour to his 1901 book on the casino. This was when Robin and I first spoke of our mutual fascination with the men who broke the bank and our search for Joseph in particular.
Armed with my experience as a professional historian, I became determined to uncover what really happened, but I underestimated just how hard it would be to get to the truth behind the family story. So little of Joseph’s life remains. This is the challenge faced by anyone who has tried to track down their ancestors, particularly those whose ordinary, working class lives have been unrecorded and lost. There are of course the records of the official milestones in Joseph’s life revealed in the census, in marriage and birth certificates, wills and deeds but there is not much more. All I had at the start of my search was that Telegraph & Argus article, the words of the song The Man who broke the Bank at Monte Carlo and a photograph of Joseph Hobson Jagger that I had inherited.
My search for the truth about Joseph Hobson Jagger has taken me from Yorkshire to Monte Carlo, from archives in Bradford to those in South Africa and to seek help from amongst others Sotheby’s, Midland Railways and Thomas Cook. During my years of research, I’ve traced and met up with three branches of my family who have given me access to archives that have never been shared before. And I have uncovered seven generations of ancestors living in Bradford and working in its textile trade since the early 1700s. My book, From the Mill to Monte Carlo, is the first comprehensive account of Joseph’s life, his win and its legacy. It presents new evidence together with a new interpretation of events in Monte Carlo. I’ve discovered the truth behind the legend of Joseph Hobson Jagger; why he went to the casino, how he won a fortune and what happened to his millions. It reveals that his was an adventure made possible only through the time and place of his birth. Without his experience of Victorian Bradford, Joseph could never have defeated the roulette wheels of Monte Carlo.
Anne Fletcher’s book, From the Mill to Monte Carlo, is published by Amberley (www.amberley-books.com), ISBN 9 781445 671390
[Robin’s note: Anne’s comment about our early discussion made me smile! I was initially very doubtful about Joseph Jagger. But I’m a convert after reading Anne’s excellent book]
- The elusive Lizzie Ritchie September 4, 2018
In a recent blog post here I discussed some of the accomplices who helped Charles Wells in his bank-breaking and other activities. One of these was named by him as Lizzie Ritchie. When he was held in jail for fraud her name appears on a grovelling letter to Queen Victoria, begging for his release. She is listed as his co-applicant on an 1887 patent for a musical skipping rope. He also named her as his backer of his gambling at Monte Carlo (though he changed his story on this point several times).
Although I was rather doubtful whether she really existed, I noted that in New York State, USA, a Lizzie Ritchie had applied a few years later for a patent on a new type of washboard she had invented. On trying to follow up this lead previously, I could not be sure whether this was the same Lizzie Ritchie, and could not locate her in census records.
Recently I looked once again at the sparse evidence that I had, and noticed the name of Jacob Ritchie, who had signed as a witness to the US patent application. I guessed that Jacob must be a relative – a husband, perhaps, or a brother. This narrowed things down considerably, and I was finally able to locate the couple in the United States 1900 census. (I had not traced them before because their surname was spelt “Richie” on the census return).
So was this the Lizzie Ritchie who allegedly helped Charles Wells? It now seems unlikely. The woman living in the USA in 1900 was born in Ireland in 1868 and had emigrated to America in 1886. She had married her spouse in 1889. On this evidence it seems most unlikely that she would have returned to Europe on several occasions over the years in order to assist Charles Wells. Lizzie, it seems, was a laundress, and her husband, Jacob, was a “general mechanic”. This sounds like an ideal combination for inventing a new-fangled washboard; but there is no evidence that either of them ever registered any other US patents.
Based on this new evidence, the Lizzie Ritchie mentioned by Charles Wells was probably a product of his imagination; the woman in the United States was almost certainly not connected with him.
- “Meet me at your bank – and bring your cheque-book” June 11, 2017
On a trip to London last week I made a detour via Trafalgar Square to take these photos of Drummonds Bank. Why?
Because the bank was already in existence on this site when Charles Deville Wells was active in London during the 1890s. Wells, known as a “gambler and fraudster extraordinaire”, persuaded one of his victims – the Honourable William Trench – to back him in a phony patent scheme. After handing over the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds, Trench started to have doubts about the project, and when Wells asked for a further advance of money the young aristocrat hesitated.
Finally they agreed to meet at Drummonds Bank, where many wealthy people, including members of the royal family had accounts. This was also where Trench banked.
Trench was persuaded to hand over a further large sum of money, but demanded that Wells provide security. Wells offered two of his steam yachts and a smaller vessel as collateral, claiming that they were worth a substantial sum.
Predictably, Trench later discovered that the two yachts were virtually worthless, while the smaller craft had disappeared. In company with Wells’ many other victims, Trench became resigned to the fact that he would never regain any of the money he had put into the scheme. Twenty years later, however, in an extraordinary twist of fate, the situation changed dramatically …
- A Family Connection May 30, 2017
To quote the listing,
This brand new and exclusive three-part series delves into the relationships of six prominent women from world history – sisters by birth, all enjoying very different relationships with each other. The series explores the fascinating but sometimes fractious lives of aviation hero Amelia Earhart, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and the infamous Mitford sisters.
I’m especially keen to watch the third instalment when I’ll be able to learn more about Lee Radziwill, sister of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She was married in 1959 to Stanislaw Radziwill (1914 – 1976).
It seemed evident that Stanislaw and Constantin were from the same family, but what exactly was the connection? I set myself the task of finding the link. Using a number of sources online, including Wikipedia, geni.com, and thepeerage.com, I finally had to reach back as far as the 16th century to discover that both men were indeed descended from a common ancestor – Aleksander Ludwik Radziwill (1594 – 1654).